Marketing the Church

Image courtesy of linder6580 at sxc.huNow that’s a loaded statement isn’t it? What do I mean by “marketing” and what do I mean by “church”? What constitutes a church “customer” and how do you know if they’re satisfied?

Way back in the day, when I was employed full time as a pastor, I often said that there was an incredibly fine line between marketing and ministry.

As youth guys we toed that line all the time…creating events that would have mass appeal to a teen target market in order to get them to attend:

  • All night scavenger hunts
  • Beach trips
  • Ice Cream Wars
  • Sanctuary baseball
  • Terminator laser tag
  • Disneyland trips

…just to name a few. We did all in the name of ministry and growth.

Having spend much of the last couple decades in marketing and watching the church from this side I’m afraid I can’t tell where the line is any longer.

It seems to me we’ve moved from trying to differentiate the church from the world into trying to differentiate one denomination from another, one local body from another, one style from another and of course the easiest way to differentiate is to show why “yours” is better than “theirs”.

Funny thing is that on top of that you hear a LOT of complaints about a consumer mentality that has “crept into” the church.

By way of contrast consider this little biblical nugget:

Acts 5: 12-16 (The Message)

Through the work of the apostles, many God-signs were set up among the people, many wonderful things done. They all met regularly and in remarkable harmony on the Temple porch named after Solomon. But even though people admired them a lot, outsiders were wary about joining them. On the other hand, those who put their trust in the Master were added right and left, men and women both. They even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on stretchers and bedrolls, hoping they would be touched by Peter’s shadow when he walked by. They came from the villages surrounding Jerusalem, throngs of them, bringing the sick and bedeviled. And they all were healed.

Seems like the objective of growth was accomplished without marketing.

Now I’m not saying we ought not be creative. I’m not saying we ought not create programs that appeal to our community. I just wonder what happened to the line.

How do you think marketing and ministry ought to play together? What does “customer loyalty” look like in the church?

 

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10 thoughts on “Marketing the Church

  1. Well…someone may have crossed the line so far back they forgot there was one. Or…they may have erased the line thinking they might trip over it. And then again…Baptists, and others, never did approve of line dancing. And those with a more charismatic formula for church were never into straight lines (not referring to gender here…). Of course…back to the Baptists…they were only for straight lines, not connected. And how is marketing different from branding (usually reserved out here in the wild west for cattle…)?

    Seems I remember, from somewhere, that the profound potential suggested by the One after Whom the church has been supposedly named is that the best “marketing” comes from how one loves…creatively…fully…unconditionally…no strings/lines attached…no matter gender, or preference…race…education…financial status/poor or wealthy…religious preference…obese…thin…married…single…fit…outta shape…young…olde…hypocrite or holy person…etc….etc…etc….even Republican or Democrat.

    PS…also as a youth pastor in SoCal, way, way back in the day, we did CrossCountry Bowling Tournaments through the streets of Whittier, CA (2 miles in length), that did cause a bit of a stir…and added to our numbers daily. For all I can ascertain, the Triune enjoyed those rollicking, rolling “marketing” moments that did seem to produce slow-growing, but definite miracles in changed lives…in kids…and the mamas and the papas…and a few grandparents thrown in for good measure.

    You know I’ve, sincerely, the deepest of respect for your own creative genius, Dr. Fletcher! So…for this day…and the ever changing future of the church…what’s a better term or idea than “marketing” in the current day? I’m not sure putting hospital beds in the streets waiting for Peter’s shadow would be welcomed…but it would get some attention.

    Does pure love work? Does love win?

    I think it does. What about you………..?

    And now, if you’ll excuse me, we’re off to Alaska to spread a little love amongst the grizzlies………..no cruise, this time.

  2. PS…the Church of the Holy Mouse (DLand or DWorld) will always work for thee and me! What they have there is brilliant…just name all the “lands” and how they make up the beliefs we espouse…Frontierland…Adventureland…Tomorrowland…etc. :-)

  3. Here are some thoughts:
    Are marketing and ministry contradictory?
    It seems to me a clever move from the enemy to convince the Church that the two are at odds.
    Isn’t ministry more successful for those who accept that marketing is part of ministry? Is “selling” the greatest Gift in all history really that difficult to do? Perhaps only if the sales staff are convinced that “marketing” is wrong.

    I tend to think there isn’t a line. The two walk hand-in-hand. We have the Good News (whoa…the 1st century marketers came up with that branding) to share with the world, so no doubt we’ll shout it from the mountaintops.

    • I’m with you Chris. I DO think they work well together. The trouble, I think, is when we forget who we’re “competing” against. Following along that same train of thought…isn’t the BEST marketing approach the testimony of satisfied customers? What does THAT look like today? Careful how you answer that one because a great personal testimony is different than a satisfied church customer.

      Maybe the line is between marketing the good news and marketing the church?

  4. This is something to chew on Curtis.

    Being involved in youth ministry, I often feel we need to market to the segment and get them excited about church. But I think we come close or cross the line when we make it all about having a great time.

    That’s not what church is all about. It’s about getting right with God, fellowshipping, and equipping.

    • I’m not sure I know exactly where to land on it either. I know there is a fair amount of space we can play in to make things appealing, especially in youth ministry. But how far do we take it?

      I also think there are elements of customer satisfaction we should be aware of leveraging in growing churches, just not sure where the smart boundaries belong.

      • Exactly. It’s a tough line. We’ve tried and done many things. Bringing in entertainment, video games, music, food, etc… to get students to come and stay. Some have worked. Others haven’t. Some have made me feel uncomfortable. That might be the point of too far.